There are a lot of notable parts of American culture that mark this year as their 50th anniversary: assassinations, White Albums, the contentious 1968 primaries and presidential election, student protests at Columbia and at the Olympics. For film lovers, 1968 is also a milestone, with the release of the most expensive, popular and culturally relevant experimental film ever made: Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s incomparable 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fortunately, thanks to the support of Christopher Nolan (who has tried his own hand at long, 70MM existential space movies), the anniversary can be celebrated properly.
Nolan’s mission has been to “unrestore” the film so that it looks and sounds as close as possible to the way audiences would have seen and heard the film in its initial release. They are also replicating the “road show” release format from 1968, when prints of the film travelled across the country on a sort of tour, a release strategy that has all but disappeared. Five pristine 70mm prints have been struck and are on tour around the country throughout the summer; Boston is fortunate enough to have two theaters with the capability to show 70mm film prints, so 2001 will be here with us for a full month.
If you only know 2001 from HAL memes or the bombastic Richard Strauss music, it’s worth another look. An ambitious attempt to retcon human evolution, peer into a plausible near future, and then speculate on the ultimate fate of the human species, the film tells its story nearly without dialogue, with a great emphasis on deeply symbolic images (culminating in its famous and inscrutable human embryo). Touching on more traditional sci-fi plots at times, the film veers wildly into the unknown in its final act and becomes a breathtaking trip into a new, Space Age religion. It is hard to describe, and is more experiential than any plot summary could convey, which is why the chance to time travel to 1968 and see the film in its original presentation is so precious. It is worth your time even if you think you know the gist of the movie, or think that there isn’t much that a slow-moving 50 year old movie can say about the future that we are building today.
Screening this week and next in 70mm at the Somerville Theatre, then screening for the following two weeks at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.